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Mr. Gray: I am sorry, but I have taken enough interventions about mobile phones. I do not intend to take an intervention from the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps he could sit quietly, take it easy and listen. There may be some opportunities for him to have his say later on. My experience of previous Fridays in this place is that he has a great deal to say on most subjects. Perhaps he will be lucky enough to catch your eye later, Madam Deputy Speaker. I shall take no further interventions from the hon. Gentleman; he will be talking about his own Bill later.
I do not want this debate on important matters to become too frivolous. Labour Members seem to be straying into frivolity. We need to give the measure careful consideration. Many lives depend on road safety. We are talking about children crossing the road. Although levity from Labour Members is fine for a while, it might
Mr. Gray: I am sorry but I shall not give way. I have given way to the hon. Lady three or four times already--rather more than she allowed me when she was promoting her ghastly Fur Farming Bill. She was quite reluctant to give way. We should make progress and consider these difficult issues.
We all know that we should not drive while using mobile phones. If I knew that it was prohibited, I certainly would not do it. More and more people have mobile phones and most people would welcome such a provision.
The Government support clause 5, which tightens up some flaws in the existing legislation on seat belts. Since the law requiring the wearing of seat belts was introduced by the Conservative Government in 1988, compulsory seat-belt wearing has saved about 550 lives a year and prevented about 9,000 serious injuries a year. Even though the libertarian wing is not keen on the compulsory wearing of seat belts, it saves a great many lives.
The one exception, which, by and large, I wholeheartedly endorse and accept is granted to drivers of delivery vans. Postmen, milkmen and so on could not possibly keep putting on and taking off their seat belts every few yards. The exception is perfectly sensible. However, it is being abused by many van drivers.
The statistics speak for themselves. Van drivers currently wear seat belts 64 per cent. of the time. Their passengers wear them even less--only 53 per cent. of the time. By comparison, car drivers wear seat belts 91 per cent. of the time. The Transport Research Laboratory estimates that if all van drivers were required to wear seat belts most of the time, about 20 lives would be saved and about 270 serious casualties would be prevented annually. The clause is a small provision, but it would save lives. I suspect that such a law would be happily accepted by most of the van drivers who blatantly do not wear seat belts when they know they should.
Clause 6 would correct a small anomaly in sentencing for the non-wearing of seat belts. At the moment, if people sitting on the front seat do not wear seat belts, they pay a £500 fine, but if children or others sitting on the back seat do not wear seat belts, they pay a £200 fine. We all know of tragic cases in which people sitting on the back seat go through the windscreen, so it is just as important that people wear their seat belts when sitting in the back seat as it is for people sitting in the front seat. Clause 6 would equalise the penalty at £500 for not wearing a seat belt wherever someone is sitting in the car.
Clause 7 would correct a very technical anomaly in the Road Traffic Act 1988 in relation to whether the Secretary of State pays for medical checks for the exemption from wearing seat belts. Those three measures would simply tidy up the rules on the wearing of seat belts, but they would be valuable none the less.
I have therefore persuaded Age Concern to compromise with the Government by introducing a de minimis but sensible concession under which pensioners and disabled people would be allowed to use their bus passes in neighbouring local authorities. Often, especially in rural areas, the neighbouring authority will be a unitary one like Swindon, which is just outside my constituency. People only three or four miles away at Wootton Bassett in my constituency cannot use their bus passes in Swindon, and vice versa. That is, frankly, crazy. Elderly and disabled people travel into their local towns to do their shopping or go to the hospital or cinema or whatever, and it is crazy that they cannot use their bus passes there.
Under the Transport Act 2000, local authorities can do deals with each other and try to find reciprocal ways in which they can recognise each other's bus passes. I am pleased to say that North Wiltshire district council has been very active and has done deals with Swindon, which will be implemented shortly, and also with Bath and Bristol. So some local authorities are making such arrangements, but they are not required to do so. A local authority may, or may not, do such deals. Under clause 8, local authorities would be required to recognise one another's bus passes. That is an obvious, simple, very cheap and cost-effective provision, but it would be of huge benefit to elderly and disabled people throughout the nation. I am certain that most charities for elderly and disabled people would welcome it.
Maria Eagle: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, as we have moved on to a different subject. He says that the concession would be very cheap. Does he have any figures on how cheap or expensive it might be?
Mr. Gray: I am sorry; I have said that I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman again because he has had more than enough time. Moreover, it is important that I should answer the hon. Lady's question before giving way to anyone else, and the fact that the hon. Gentleman is jumping up and down while I am trying to do so seems a little silly.
Although we do not know how many people travel from one authority area to another, it is reasonable to presume that there will not be all that many since we are only talking about the neighbouring area. Anyhow, such arrangements would be reciprocal. People from North Wiltshire would go to Swindon and people from Swindon would go to North Wiltshire, so the cost would be extremely small.
Mr. Dismore: The hon. Gentleman mentioned the arrangements in London and those between counties. The Bill does not deal with London. My constituency, which is in London, borders Hertfordshire. Many people from Hertfordshire--for example, from Watford--may wish to travel into central London to do their shopping or to go to entertainments there, or whatever. How will the Bill address the problem of people from outside London wanting to avail themselves of London transport? I am pretty sure that fewer people will want to travel from London to Watford than will want to go from Watford to London.
Mr. Gray: The hon. Gentleman is, of course, right, but the local authority could do a deal with the Mayor, or with individual London boroughs, to ensure that its bus passes are recognised in London. However, the Bill does not represent an attempt to cure all ills in all places. Other people have raised with me the problem that people might not want to travel to the next local authority but the one beyond that. In some geographical areas, the main centre may well be two authorities away. The Bill would not deal with that problem; it is a very modest little Bill, which would address particular difficulties in certain places.
Mr. Maclean: Perhaps I can help my hon. Friend. As he seems to have information that suggests that the Government are keen on the Bill and that it should be considered in Committee, perhaps he will enter into discussions with the Government--I hope they will agree--with a view to introducing a new clause or an amendment on Report to deal with that London problem. I am sure that the Government would co-operate with him.